July 01, 2008

Living Is Hard: West African Music In Britain 1927-1929

Living_Is_Hard.jpgIn this age of globalised music markets, it's common to talk of certain Western cities as centres of "world music". When we do, it generally means that these cities are magnets for Third World musicians who come to record in top-notch studios and sign deals with big-time labels who will pitch their music to an educated and receptive Western audience. Once upon a time, though, being a nominal centre for "world music" meant something completely different...

In 1922, the London-based Zonophone label brought out its first release aimed at a West African audience - a platter of Christian hymns recorded in Yoruba by Fela Kuti's grandfather. The record must have been fairly successful as, by the late 1920's, Zonophone was making a serious push to corner the West African market.

Unlike later major label ventures into this market, however, they had no interest in actually taking recording equipment to Africa to record local artists. Instead, they remained resolutely rooted in their London studios and scoured the African ex-patriate community for musicians who could churn out product for the folks back home.

The result was hundreds of discs documenting every West African musical style of the day; none of which were intended for anyone outside of their ultimate audience in Africa. In the process of recording of them, Zonophone effectively turned London into one of the first centres of "world music". Because of the primary audience of their recordings, though, it was never recognised as such...

Now, however, thanks to Honest Jon Records, who have released an album of those Zonophone recordings, we finally have a glimpse into the African music export underground of that period. Here's a track from it by one of the stars of early Ghanaian high-life, George Williams Aingo. When translated, its lyrics go something like this: Old man Bonto, I've brought money home / Back from abroad / Living is hard ayee / Old man Bonto, I've brought money home

George Williams Aingo - Akuko Nu Bonto

Posted by Warren at July 1, 2008 01:15 AM | World